First there was the rack system. It reared its ugly head sometime during the ’70s. Big black components, burly fake-wood cabinets and gigantic speakers the size of pylons. But hey, it looked cool-and, more importantly, you were cool for proudly displaying it in your living room.
Thank the Lord the ’70s are over. And while many of that decade’s styles are back in a retro movement, we are happy to say that rack systems (at least currently) are not part of it.
Rack systems not only looked ugly, they didn’t sound so great either; they were designed to hit an affordable price-point. Real music lovers bought component systems instead, and true audiophiles spent hours setting up and tweaking their components for maximum performance. But if you didn’t want to spend hours fussing over your system, you had to settle for the mediocre sound (and disheartening appearance) of an all-in-one rack system.
In the ’80s, audio manufacturers discovered that some people didn’t want huge rack systems, but rather were interested in a system that would better fit their décor. So most manufacturers came out with so-called “shelf systems” or “mini systems.” For the most part, these more compact systems were smaller but didn’t sound or look particularly good.
One Danish Company, Bang & Olufsen, has spent the better part of 25 years producing all-in-one systems that are as beautiful to the eyes as they are to the ears. Over the past 10 years or so, other manufacturers have followed suit to deliver a bevy of great-sounding all-in-one systems that are stylish, easy to set up and easy to use.
The Bang & Olufsen BeoSound 3000 System
B&O is considered to be the mac-daddy of the shelf-stereo system. They have relentlessly pursued the best-possible sound from the smallest-size system, and have developed a number of models that are quite impressive sounding. This particular model offers a CD player, AM/FM stereo but no cassette deck (other models do if you still have a cassette library). The speakers are available with the choice of many different color grilles to match your room. The CD player has a feature where it will remember the titles and your favorite tracks from up to 100 CDs.
But perhaps the coolest thing about the 3000 system is that its glass doors are opened and closed by steel wires driven by an electric motor via a gearbox. The motor is triggered by an infrared system that detects your approach. So just wave your hand in front of the system and presto! The doors open automatically.
The system retails for under $3,000. Bang & Olufsen products have very limited distribution and are sold only through exclusive B&O stores. For the store nearest you, you can log onto www.bang-olufsen.com.
The Nakamichi SoundSpace 5 Stereo Music System
Nakamichi was the preeminent Japanese high-fidelity company of the last 20 years. They had had some distribution issues as of late, but have brought in new management with a strong vision for the future of audio and home theater.
Like the B&O system, the Nakamichi system also is wall-mountable or can sit on a tabletop. It uses Nakamichi’s proprietary MusicBank CD changer that accommodates up to three CDs. Like the B&O, the SoundSpace 5 system is sans cassette and allows for interchangeable speaker grilles available in charcoal, blue and green.
For additional ease of use, two remote controls are provided: one is a full-function remote that controls all of the system’s functions; the other is a compact, egg-shaped remote that runs just the essential ones.
Look for the Nakamichi Sound-Space 5 system for $800 at your local hi-fi dealer.
TAG McLaren Aphrodite System
New on the block is a hot high-end audio system from English watchmaker McLaren, famous for their TAG Heuer watches and ultra-high-end McLaren racing cars. They have begun the trek to become a serious player in the U.S. electronics market.
This system is extremely cool-looking and sounds good too. It features a CD player and AM/FM radio, plus their proprietary Calliope speakers that deliver full-range sound from diminutive cabinets.
The system and the speakers come in colors that can be purchased separately for whatever color combination tickles your fancy. Some of the more exotic hues include anthracite, electric blue, berry and bronze.
The Aphrodite system is so new that there are only a few dealers so far. Go to their Web site to find one near you: www.tagmclarenaudio.com.
There is a price for high fashion: the suggested retail for the Aphrodite system is $5,500.
The Linn Classik System
British Linn Products Limited is one of the most reputable audiophile manufacturers, and has produced turntables and other audio components since 1972. They spent considerable time and effort producing a mini system that is worthy of their moniker.
The Classik system incorporates a very powerful (75 watts per channel), high-quality amplifier to deliver component-quality sound from a small shelf system. The system includes a CD player and a tuner with 50 station presets. It also can be configured to operate external lighting, additional A/V components and security systems.
The colors are also very sharp, emulating the Mercedes-Benz colors such as arctik white, pacifik blue, atlantik green and others.
Look for the Linn system at any high-end stereo dealer for around $2,000.
The Denon UD-M30/UD-M50 Micro System
Denon is another reputable audio company who has made a name for itself pioneering much of the digital technology that went in the compact disc. This system is made up of mini components that can be mixed and matched. They are sleek, with a silver finish, and are only 250 mm wide.
The UD-M30 is a combination CD player/receiver complete with amplifier and AM/FM tuner. Also available is the CDR-M30 CD-recorder for burning your own CD copies. Plus a DRR-M30 auto-reverse cassette deck. If you wish to step up to a CD changer, you can substitute the UD-M30 for the UD-M50-a 3-disc CD changer.
The UD-M50 system is available at many Denon dealers pre-packaged with Mission loudspeakers. Mission is an English speaker company of note that Denon purchased some years back. Look for the system with speakers for around $500. The CD-R and cassette deck are additional.
The JVC TH-A10 Executive Home Theater System
For those who want a small system that will also deliver digital surround, the JVS system is so small that it can easily fit into your TV room unnoticed. It sports a 200-watt amp that decodes Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. Plus it includes a built-in CD-DVD player, and 5 satellite speakers and a subwoofer.
It looks way cool too, with a brushed aluminum console, chrome front panel and solid aluminum speaker cabinets. It comes complete with two remote controls, one full-function and one simple remote.
This is an all-in-one system that easily hooks up to any TV set for instant home theater. In fact, all of the hook-up connections are color-coded for even the wirephobic! And the best part is the price. This JVC system sells for a mere $1,500!
The Bose LS-50 Lifestyle Home Theater System
We have saved the best for last. Bose, the best-known name in electronics, has made a big-time foray into the all-in-one systems market. Their Lifestyle systems are considered to be some of the best sounding and easiest to use ever. Plus, they are chock full of technological innovations that make your music-listening and movie-watching life considerably easier.
The LS-50 is the top-of-the-line system and has everything. There are three other systems that are less expensive if you get a wave of sticker shock.
The LS-50 is a complete home-theater system, with Digital 5.1 decoding for movies as well as Bose’s own Videostage 5 decoding. It includes five tiny Jewel Cube speakers and a hideaway, patented Acoustimass module (Bose’s fancy name for a subwoofer). It includes a six-disc CD changer too. You can also install music throughout your house because the LS-50 delivers music to four additional zones when you use Bose’s additional powered speakers.
But perhaps the best thing about this system is the Personal Music Center (Bose’s fancy name for the remote control). This palm-size music center is smaller than a videotape. But it is a two-way interactive system that delivers useful information about the status of the system to the user. This allows you to tuck away the actual system and use just the remote control from now on. You can see which station you’re listening to or which CD is playing.
Frequently used functions, like volume control and station selection, are readily available. Menus for advanced functions like programming a multiple CD play list appear only when you’re using them. And it uses radio frequency so that you don’t have to even be in the same room as the system to use the remote control.
This ultimate “mini” system from Bose sells for $3,700 and is available at fine Bose resellers (Bose’s fancy name for a dealer) everywhere.